There’s no more optimistic day on the AFL calendar than the draft. Dozens of bright new talents make their way into the AFL for the first time, dreaming – as their new clubs and fans will be also – of what they might achieve.
Many go on to outstrip the dreams we had for them. When Richmond drafted Dustin Martin at Pick 3 back in 2009, even the most optimistic fan never could’ve imagined up the accolades he has gone to win.
At the other end of the scale, many aren’t able to make a career a reality. Even players picked as early as in the top ten can fail to reach their potential.
Looking at the draft from 2000-10, an era where any player selected has had at least ten years in which to show their wares, 74 per cent picked in the top ten have made it to 100 games, while 54 per cent made it to 150.
Some in that group may still edge over the 150-mark in years to come – oft-injured players like Gary Rohan, Sam Day and Jared Polec are in the mix as soon as 2021 – but regardless, the numbers are sobering.
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Of course, a lot has changed in ten years – clubs are becoming better and more resourced when it comes to recruitment, and no doubt improving their ability to identify the best draft talents when making use of earlier picks.
And the numbers look good in particular for clubs who are picking in the top three – 84 per cent of those players from the time period above have gone to play at least 150 games, while 100 per cent of No.1 picks did so.
Still, it’s important to keep the expectations we place on the shoulders of 18-year-olds reasonable, and remember that some will not make it, often through no fault of their own – and it’s even more important to know that that’s okay.
There is, after all, no such thing as perfect drafting. Our current back-to-back premiers Richmond have picked names like Ben Griffiths and Ben Lennon ahead of Nat Fyfe and Patrick Cripps, and it hasn’t stopped them being successful.
But who am I to deny you the chance to dream? Don’t be afraid to hope that your draft picks might be 200-gamers, All Australians, Brownlow Medallists, premiership stars. Because some of them will be.
Now that we’ve been through the facts about the top ten, let’s talk a little about the way it might play out.
The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used so many times this year – an unprecedented amount! – but there’s really no other way to describe the 2020 draft.
That is summed up no better by the fact that less than 24 hours out from the event, we’re still not confident about the identity of the No.1 selection.
As phantom drafts from major media outlets have dropped to the public over the last 48 hours, a consensus appears to have developed that Adelaide will use Pick 1 to bid on NGA player Jamarra Ugle-Hagan who, even at that high price, is certain to be matched by the Bulldogs.
While that is history-making news in itself, the real first pick that we care about – whether it ultimately holds that number or not – is who will actually be selected by the Crows, and on that the phantom drafters remain divided.
Logan McDonald has been seen as the mostly likely choice but AFL Media’s Cal Twomey – whose record with phantom drafts is unparalleled – says Adelaide are taking local boy Riley Thilthorpe.
Even more stunning is that Twomey and others predict McDonald may then slide as far as Hawthorn at Pick 5, with North Melbourne widely tipped to want Elijah Hollands, and Sydney closely linked to key defender Denver Grainger-Barrass.
But the Swans are perhaps the wildcard here – they were repeatedly predicted to take Sam Flanders last year only to overlook him for Dylan Stephens, and it’s hard to be certain they would not snap up McDonald if he becomes available at the pick, currently No.3.
For that reason, Hawthorn and North Melbourne may swap picks allowing the Hawks to draft McDonald at two and North to pick Hollands at four, though what the other details of that trade might be remain unclear.
Gold Coast are widely expected to take Will Phillips after that. He’d clearly be the best talent on the board, but at the same time isn’t really the player the Suns need, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see them pull a surprise – perhaps a key tall like Nik Cox or Zach Reid. But Phillips is being spruiked and does seem the most likely outcome.
After that, it’s up to enigmatic Essendon to shape the first round and no one seems confident on what they’ll do.
The Bombers reportedly had the names Archie Perkins, Nik Cox and Brayden Cook circled and placed next to their current players in the background of a video rehearsal of the draft – of course, a cheeky prank seems the more likely explanation for that than a genuine leak.
But the Bombers have been linked to a few players like Cook, Jack Carroll or Conor Stone, who are more expected to go in the mid-teens than the top ten – and perhaps that adds weight to the speculation that they could trade down the order.
The other point of interest to follow is Reef McInnes, who could become the first pre-tied player to receive an unmatched first-round bid. That is to say, if he is bid on by Essendon or Adelaide in the top ten, Collingwood are considered likely to pass.
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Unmatched bids have happened before but never so early in the draft, with clubs rarely willing to pass up such talent. Missing out on McInnes might not be that big of a deal, or it could compound Collingwood’s off-season from hell – that would be up to time to tell and their fans to decide.
What will really happen? Your guess is as good as mine – and that’s why there’s no follow-up this year to my first 2020 phantom, published at the end of the trade period. Even four weeks on I’m not confident I could do any better.
What do I want to happen? I’ve changed my mind on my preference with North’s Pick 2 at least a dozen times since the season ended. It looks like being Hollands – and he has a grouse hairdo, so what’s not to love?
In the next 24 hours, we’ll go from this puzzling uncertainty to knowing exactly where all 50-plus new draftees have landed. I’ll see you on the other side to wrap it all up.